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Fun things to do in Southern California

Illustration by James Gulliver Hancock

A curated list of the best upcoming events in Southern California.

Eyes on the Road: Art of the Automotive Landscape

Ongoing While most drivers don’t consider the design of street signs and roadside amenities, many modern and contemporary artists have been inspired by the art found on and around our roadways. This new exhibit examines everything from the mundane (Ed Ruscha’s paintings of gas stations and road signs) to the flashy (the 1956 Astra-Gnome, a futuristic vision of what a car would look like in 2000), with an emphasis on the decisions that come to define a city’s aesthetic and how those choices infiltrate artistic creations for future generations. Adults, $21. Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles

Adam Parker Smith

FREE! Through July 7 Adam Parker Smith creates whimsical, lighthearted sculptures and wall pieces that lean toward the surreal. Visitors to this exhibit can see one of Smith’s works on the museum’s front lawn: Called simply David, it’s a reimagining of the famed Bernini piece, made of the same materials (white Carrara marble on a stone pedestal) but compressed into a cubic meter—a playful, apartment-ready version of the original. San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, San Luis Obispo

John Waters: Pope of Trash

Through August 4 Filmmaker/actor/provocateur John Waters’ gonzo films were screened strictly for the fringe until Hairspray made him a household name in 1988. That film would go on to become a Broadway hit, earning more than half a dozen Tony Awards 20 years ago. Since then, Waters has been broadly embraced as America’s weird uncle. The Academy Museum is presenting a complete retrospective of his career, including props, scripts, and behind-the-scenes photographs. Adults, $25. Academy Museum, Los Angeles

Ed Ruscha/Now Then

Through October 6 Ed Ruscha has been creating art in Los Angeles for more than 60 years. Initially a student of commercial art, his photographs and paintings are shown in some of the world’s most respected art institutions. More than 500 of his works are in LACMA’s permanent collection, and this exhibit will display several of them, including Chocolate Room. While this may sound like a clever name, the idea is simple: The walls are covered in screen-printed chocolate. Adult admission starts at $20; free for L.A. County residents 17 and under; free for county residents Monday through Friday after 3 p.m. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.

Louis Prima: Rediscovering a Musical Icon

FREE! Through October 13 Whether it was as one half of a Las Vegas performing duo with his wife, Keely Smith, or as King Louie in the 1967 film The Jungle Book, trumpeter, singer, bandleader, and voice actor Louis Prima always knew how to deliver the perfect punch line. The self-proclaimed “wild man” had numerous radio hits including “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Jump, Jive an’ Wail.” This retrospective on Prima’s career emphasizes his New Orleans roots and features a collection of personal items and one-of-a-kind memorabilia. Italian American Museum, Los Angeles.

Yves Saint Laurent: Line and Expression

FREE! Through October 27 Twentieth-century French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s designs were immensely popular in Europe and the United States, and he was a fixture of social scenes in New York and Paris in the ’60s and ’70s. When Saint Laurent wasn’t appearing in nightlife columns, he was known to decamp to a villa in Marrakech, sketching his days away. This show explores those sketches and the flowing designs that resulted from his North African sojourns. Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa.

Valley Center Western Days

FREE! June 1 The small town of Valley Center in northern San Diego County was known as Bear Valley in the 1860s, thanks mostly to a grizzly bear that tormented residents for a while. Since 1950, the town has been celebrating its Western roots with a festival, including a chili cook-off, pie-eating contest, beer garden, car show, parade, and live music. This year introduces a tamale festival and farmers market. 28305 Lilac Road, Valley Center.

SoCal Wienerfest

FREE! June 1 While dachshunds may not have a greyhound’s aerodynamics, you’ll be surprised by how fast they can run. This annual festival gives these pups a chance to show off their agility and sniff some familiar-looking friends while their humans mingle. With races, contests, vendors, raffle prizes, photo ops, and merchandise, the event also promotes rescue organizations and adoptions of local pups. Huntington Dog Beach, Huntington Beach.

Ojai Music Festival

June 6–9 The 78th festival, helmed this year by accomplished pianist Mitsuko Uchida, promises the hits (think Haydn and Mozart) as well as works by some of our best living composers (Esa-Pekka Salonen and John Zorn) in an idyllic setting with an engaged audience. Tickets start at $25; some events, talks, and screenings are free. Libbey Bowl, Ojai.

San Clemente Car Show

FREE! June 8 Less than half a mile from the San Clemente Pier, this 28th annual car show sets up row after row of muscle, hot rod, and vintage cars, with a particular nod to beachy Volkswagen vans and indestructible woodies. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend, enjoying food, music, family activities, and a plethora of beautiful automobiles. Parking is limited but you can catch a free ride on the San Clemente trolley. Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente.

San Diego County Fair

June 12–July 7 This annual event has been running continually at the Del Mar Fairgrounds since 1936—prior to that, it was held in National City in 1880 and moved from place to place until settling at Del Mar. With rides and carnival games, all kinds of food, live music and other entertainment, competitions, and vendors, there’s no shortage of things to do at this nostalgic family-friendly affair, whose theme this year is “Let’s Go Retro.” Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Adult admission starts at $16. Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar.

Hollywood Carnival Parade of the Bands

FREE! June 22 Anyone who has witnessed this musical procession knows that it’s a loud and raucous party. Flatbed trucks are loaded with dancers, percussionists, and enough speakers to rattle windows several blocks away. As the groups parade down Hollywood Boulevard, the party moves with them for blocks and blocks. Grab a spot on the curb and prepare for a wild time. Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood.

Pageant of the Masters

July 6–August 30 More often than not, the fashion in Laguna Beach is louder than the waves on the town’s 7 miles of beach. One can only imagine the plumage on display when the Pageant of the Masters tackles the theme of fashion in art at its annual tradition of “living paintings.” Featuring scenes from royal court attire to more contemporary pieces by designer Edith Head and painter David Hockney, the show will be more than enough reason to look sharp. Tickets start at $40 (children under age 4 not admitted). Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach

California Mid-State Fair

July 17–28 For many people, the Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego county fairs are just too big. In Paso Robles, you’ll find all the hallmarks of a solid county fair—all kinds of food and refreshments,  watermelon-eating contests, and tractor parades—without the overwhelming crowds. It’s the “biggest little fair anywhere,” and if the race for toddlers and the barn dance are a little too low-key, more than 3 dozen midway rides will give you something to scream about. Adults, $15. Paso Robles Event Center, Paso Robles.

Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo

July 20–21 Entertainer Bill Pickett, who died in 1932, was one of the most prominent Black horse wranglers of all time. Now celebrating its 40th year, this rodeo honors his legacy with a focus on Black cowboys and cowgirls, wowing with bareback riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and bull riding, and carries the torch for an underappreciated subculture of American history. Adults, $40 in advance and $45 at the gate; arena seats are $75. Industry Hills Expo Center, City of Industry.

Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival

FREE! July 27 Dragon boat history stretches back more than 2,000 years. It’s said that villagers in China celebrated the fifth day of the Chinese calendar’s fifth lunar month by paddling canoe-like vessels carved with dragons—an important creature in Chinese mythology—in the hopes that they would be granted a good harvest. Today, Long Beach hosts one of the state’s largest dragon boat competitions. Dozens of teams compete, each with approximately 18 paddlers per boat, plus a drummer whose rhythmic pulse drives the rowers’ motions. Marine Stadium, Long Beach.

A Taste of Camarillo

July 28 Nestled between Central California’s vineyards and sprawling Los Angeles, Camarillo is a charming town with a rich agricultural history. More than 30 of the area’s finest restaurants will be on hand at this 37th annual festival, and more than 100 wineries and about a dozen breweries will help participants cool down in the summer heat. Live music, shopping, and dance lessons round out the event. Tickets, $135. Camarillo Ranch, Camarillo.

Old Spanish Days

FREE! July 31–August 4 To commemorate the reopening of the Lobero Theatre in August 1924, Santa Barbara locals invited the community to share in food, music, and dance. Called Old Spanish Days, the festivities celebrated the area’s Spanish, Mexican, and Native American heritage. The 5-day tradition, known by locals as “Fiesta,” continues 100 years later with performances by local flamenco and folklórico dancers and other live entertainment, a market, food vendors, and a rodeo. One of the largest equestrian parades in the U.S. takes place on Friday. Various locations downtown, Santa Barbara

Henry IV

FREE! August 1 Shakespeare by the Sea, famous for offering free programming every summer throughout L.A. and Orange counties, closes its 26th season with Henry IV. Bring a picnic and a sweater and revel in the timeless art of live theater. Soka University’s Campus Green, Aliso Viejo

SoCal Taco Fest

August 17 This annual festival has no shortage of highlights: lucha libre matches, a margarita tent, more than 25 taco shops, all-day DJs, and performances by Vanilla Ice and Smash Mouth, to name a few. Adding to the packed agenda is a chihuahua race and beauty pageant, the latter of which is decided in the most diplomatic way possible: an applause meter. 21+ only. General admission starts at $49. Waterfront Park, San Diego

Movie Nights at The Queen Mary

FREE! August 21 and September 18 When the RMS Queen Mary first set sail out of Southampton, England, in 1936, it boasted a movie theater equipped with sound. The luxury ship featured state-of-the-art amenities, and though it has appeared in many movies (The Aviator, Chaplin, The Poseidon Adventure), it hasn’t screened any in a long time. The Queen Mary’s inaugural summer film series closes with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Wonka. Filmgoers sit on the pierside lawn, where the ship’s iconic red-orange funnels serve as a backdrop. Free with reservation; parking, $10. The Queen Mary, Long Beach

Leimert Park Jazz Festival

FREE! August 31 Starting as a neighborhood block party in 2015, this jazz festival helped cement Leimert Park as a cultural bastion of Black Los Angeles. Home to venues like The World Stage and The Barbara Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, Leimert Park has provided performance opportunities for local wunderkinds and touring legends alike. This free festival honors that cultural role with swinging sounds all day long. VIP tickets available. Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Leimert Park

Maritime Festival

FREE! September 13–15 This 40th annual festival boasts tall ships, cannon battles, a pirate and mermaid ball, reenactors, local vendors and food trucks, a beer garden, and even a pirate school. It’s all thanks to the nonprofit Ocean Institute, a conservation group and educational center in Dana Point Harbor. Many events are free; $80 for boarding the ships and sailing. Dana Point Harbor, Dana Point

Sea Glass and Ocean Arts Festival

September 14–15 Artists, beach enthusiasts, and conservationists from across the country converge in Santa Barbara to make and sell ocean-themed art and sea-glass jewelry during this annual festival. Enroll in a workshop to create your own charm bracelets and pendants, and learn about sea glass and other ocean-related topics from guest lecturers. Admission, $7 per day or $12 for both days. Workshop costs vary. Elks Lodge #613, Santa Barbara

Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion

FREE! September 20–21 Ontario is the gateway to the final 50-mile stretch of historic Route 66, holding onto the last vestiges of the dusty road before the trail ends at the Santa Monica Pier and the ocean breeze kicks in. To celebrate the internationally recognized highway, live bands and other entertainment fill in the spaces not occupied by more than 1,000 classic cars. Euclid Avenue, Ontario

Anaheim Craft & Vintage Fair

FREE! September 21 This small but mighty craft fair features the work of more than 30 local creators. Sellers also offer their vintage treasures, and guests can purchase Eastern European foods, baked goods, and homemade jam. Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church, Anaheim

Taste of the Santa Ynez Valley

September 26–29 It’s hard to calculate how many road trips were inspired by the 2004 film Sideways, but there are more than a few Santa Ynez Valley business owners who can thank Alexander Payne’s wine-drenched dramedy for the tourism boom that started 20 years ago. This year’s annual food and wine festival—a 4-day, 6-town celebration of the region’s offerings—culminates with a screening of the hit film, along with a wine tasting and a panel featuring one of the movie’s stars, Virginia Madsen, at Solvang Festival Theater. Ticket prices vary per event. Various locations, Santa Ynez Valley

Reyes Adobe Days

FREE! October 4–6 For nearly 175 years, the Reyes Adobe has stood as an emblem of the area’s Spanish influence. Nestled in a sprawling suburban neighborhood, the adobe has served as a museum for more than 40 years. This annual gathering promises a parade, a 40-mile bike race, and lots of live music. Throughout the celebration, museum tours ground the event in its long and fascinating history. Reyes Adobe Historical Site, Agoura Hills

Coastal Quilters Harvest of Colors Quilt Show

FREE! October 5–6 There’s more than one way to make a quilt, and few folks know this better than members of the Coastal Quilters Guild of Santa Barbara & Goleta. This biannual event highlights the many styles, designs, and themes inherent in the textile artform and offers opportunities for admirers and amateur quilters to mingle. Earl Warren Showgrounds, Santa Barbara

Julian Arts Guild’s Open Studios Art Tour

October 19–20 An artist’s workspace can reveal a lot about their art. In ideal conditions, the amount of light and air is exactly as they desire, each condition modified to their productive sweet spot. This fall, Julian’s many artisans—from painters and photographers to sculptors and jewelers—open their doors to the public for 2 days for visitors to enjoy a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the studios of some of San Diego County’s most accomplished creatives. $10 per person. Various locations, Julian

Boo at the Zoo

October 19, 20, 26, and 27 Trick-or-treaters of all ages can visit 10 stations offering up goodies while the train, carousel, and Ferris wheel spins past sunset, bringing a fun glimpse of the charming zoo’s nocturnal operations. Costumes are encouraged, and this year’s funds go toward the primate habitats and other zoo improvements. Adults, $35. Santa Ana Zoo, Santa Ana

FREE! indicates free admission to the event, but additional fees may be required. Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

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